- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — More than two-thirds of Baghdad residents would like to see U.S. troops stay in Iraq for an extended period, according to a poll conducted by the Gallup Organization in the violence-racked Iraqi capital.

The city has been struck by suicide bombers three times in the past five days, including yesterday in an attack outside the Turkish Embassy. Witnesses said the driver and a bystander were killed, and hospitals said at least 13 were wounded.

Much of the blast was absorbed by concrete barriers outside the embassy, U.S. officials said.

Seventy-one percent of Baghdad residents believe U.S. troops should not leave within the next few months, according to the Gallup Poll released yesterday in Washington. Twenty-six percent feel the troops should leave that soon.

Almost six in 10 — 58 percent — say U.S. troops in Baghdad have behaved fairly well or very well, with one in 10 saying very well. Twenty percent say the troops have behaved fairly badly and 9 percent say very badly.

The biggest surprise may have been public reaction to the questioners, who visited Iraqis in their homes. Richard Burkholder, director of international polling for Gallup, said the response rate was close to 97 percent, with some people following questioners around the streets begging for a chance to give their opinions.

A sizable minority feel there are circumstances in which attacks against U.S. troops could be justified. Almost one in five — 19 percent — say attacks could be justified, and an additional 17 percent say they could be in some situations.

U.S. forces were lucky to have escaped injury in yesterday’s suicide attack, having been deployed outside the Turkish Embassy as recently as last weekend, apparently because of a threat.

“About three days ago, we received indications that there might be increased danger on the Turkish Embassy,” said Col. Peter Mansoor of the 1st Armored Division. “We revved up security measures based on those indications.”

Turkish Ambassador Osman Paksut, whose government has offered peacekeeping troops to reinforce the U.S. military presence, denounced the attack. “This is the act of those who want to turn Iraq into a terror paradise,” he said.

Just who is behind the bombings remains a mystery, although Iraqis converging on the scene yesterday began chanting pro-Saddam Hussein slogans.

It was the third car bombing since Thursday, when a driver detonated his vehicle in a police station courtyard, killing himself and nine others. On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed himself and six others near the Baghdad Hotel, home to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The string of attacks began in August with bombings at the Jordanian Embassy and the U.N. headquarters, killing more than 140 people across Iraq. All the targets have been institutions perceived as cooperating with the United States.

In the southern city of Karbala, meanwhile, gunmen of rival Shi’ite Muslim factions clashed, and witnesses said several people were killed or injured. It appeared to be part of a power struggle between forces of the firebrand cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr and followers of religious leaders who take a more moderate stand toward the U.S.-led coalition.

Farther south, at his headquarters in Najaf, Sheik al-Sadr demanded that the United States set a timetable for withdrawal. “Whoever cooperates with the occupation forces is not a Shi’ite. Indeed, they are not Muslims,” he said.

Pentagon officials said the U.S. military is concerned about Sheik al-Sadr but is uncertain whether he poses a significant threat. The officials said they remain committed to disarming militias — including Sheik al-Sadr’s — but declined to say whether they would confront his followers.

In other developments yesterday, a spokeswoman for the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, Maj. Josslyn Aberle, said the military had no reports that Saddam was hiding in his hometown of Tikrit. This countered a statement Monday by a 4th Infantry officer that the deposed leader was recently in the area.

In central Iraq’s Sunni Muslim heartland, about 100 people gathered at the main mosque in Fallujah to demand the release of a cleric arrested by U.S. troops on Monday. Sheik Jamal Shaker Nazzal is an outspoken opponent of the American troop presence.

In Baghdad, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans delivered an upbeat message at a news conference yesterday, saying he had seen “endless successes” in Iraq, citing restoration of electrical power and the reopening of schools and hospitals.

The Gallup Organization said its house-to-house poll was conducted by more than 40 questioners, most of them Iraqi citizens directed by survey managers who have helped with other Gallup Polls in the Muslim world.

“This is the way we did polling in the United States before telephone ownership got to the point that we could do reliable phone surveys,” said Mr. Burkholder.

Respondents were chosen at random from all geographic sectors of the city. They were told the poll was being done for the media both in Iraq and outside their country, but no mention was made that an American polling firm was conducting it.

The poll of 1,178 adults was taken between Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 and had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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